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How radically different cinema history, and our collective
consciousness, would have been if Frank Sinatra hadn't injured his hand
before shooting started on "Dirty Harry". Sinatra was due to play Harry,
but had to withdraw, clearing the way for Clint. Given Sinatra's unique
brand of self-loathing, Harry would have been an uglier personality than
Clint made him. As it is, Lieutenant Callaghan is an ornery anti-liberal
cuss of a guy, but he is straight and likeable. Arguably, it was this
characterisation which made Eastwood a megastar.
San Francisco in 1971 was ready for stardom itself. The West Coast
love-in scene and the gay 'boom', together with McQueen's "Bullitt", raised
awareness of San Francisco as an exciting liberal city with a photogenic
skyline. The film's funky score by Lalo Schifrin is perfectly-judged, and
spawned numerous imitators.
The central narrative concerns a lone nut who is trying to hold the
city to ransom. He starts by murdering citizens to extort money from the
mayor, then progresses to kidnapping children. This plays cleverly on the
inchoate anxieties of Middle America, where law-abiding people were puzzled
and alarmed at the 'crime wave' and the threat it posed to them and their
families. Crime in the decades before the Kennedy assassination had been
compartmentalised by Hollywood. Gangsters were bad, but they killed other
gangsters. Now the danger was unpredictable, irrational - and solitary.
The lone madman was as likely to strike against me or you as against an
institution. Only a single-minded strong man, operating on the fringes of
the rules, could combat this new terror.
Harry is a paradox. In one sense, he is an 'outlaw'. He has little
respect for formal authority (in the opening minutes, we see him being rude
to the mayor) and he carries a strictly non-regulation monster of a gun.
Harry is openly racist and mutinous. And yet he is also deeply moral. He
conforms to an unarticulated ethical code that is anglosaxon American. He
protects the weak and confronts the wrongdoers, no matter how the odds are
stacked against him. Indeed, the cowardly bureaucrats who will never reward
him or promote him are able to exploit his profound decency. They send him
on all the difficult, dirty jobs because they know that his sense of right
and wrong won't allow him to walk away.
Early in the film, the famous bank robbery scene occurs. This has
become so familiar that it hardly needs elaborating here, but to summarise,
Harry foils an armed robbery using icy courage and grim humour - and his
magnum handgun. The special brand of Eastwood humour recurs throughout the
story (eg, the suicide jumper and the gay called 'Alice'). White anglosaxon
America is encouraged to laugh at the undergroups which supposedly threaten
When the bad guy 'Scorpio' is cornered, he immediately starts bleating
about his civil rights. This is meant to arouse our fury, because we have
seen him callously destroying the lives of others, and here he is exploiting
the protection of the state. To make matters worse, the state agrees with
him. We see the DA and a judge explaining to Harry why the cogent evidence
against Scorpio is inadmissible. Just exactly why the DA would call a
meeting with a lowly policeman in order to explain department policy is far
from clear, but the scene is thematically necessary. Scorpio is using the
System against the decent, godfearing people who own it. The liberal
apparatus is skewed if it lets a killer walk away scot-free.
There are some illogicalities about the plot. Such an important event
as the cash drop is left to two cops working alone, when in reality there
would be a massive covert operation. When Scorpio beats the rap, there is
no public outcry or media storm, and he is allowed to get on with his
anonymous existence virtually untroubled.
However, this hardly matters since the main thrust of the story is the
coming showdown between Harry and the bad guy. As the climax approaches,
Harry drops out of the police operation. Scorpio is at his manic worst on
the hi-jacked school bus, alienating us nicely and suppressing any liberal
twitches we may still be feeling. Then we see Harry, standing as upright
and sturdy as the Statue Of Liberty ....
Tags for Dirty Harry Full Movie
, Harry Guardino
, John Vernon
, Reni Santoni
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